Why give others the benefit of doubt?

A discussion at workplace with colleagues.

“Tell me. Why didn’t you greet me on the street the other day? What have you got against me?”

“We met? No, I can’t remember that!”

“That’s impossible! We passed and you even looked into my eyes, but didn’t greet me! What have you got against me?”

Did you ever experience or witness a situation such as this true-life incident? Perhaps you have seen an even more serious instance when wrong motives were imputed to someone

For one thing, it is possible to misunderstand the attitude and motives of others. Today, an individual may be shy and retiring.

Perhaps he also has a stern facial expression. Others might wrongly conclude that he is cold, proud and unloving, although that may not be the case at all.

Sometimes people incorrectly impute laziness to others. But the one they consider lazy may be doing his utmost.

Because of some physical weakness or health problem, he may not be able to do more or to work faster. So it is good to realize that, for many reasons, not all persons are equally productive or efficient.

At times, wrong motives have been imputed to those who have simply been trying to show loving consideration for others.

For instance, in a certain office several persons take turns answering the telephone even after regular working hours. They need not sit right at the phone waiting for a call, but may do something else in a room nearby.

One day, a responsible individual not on duty was right at the telephone when a call came in.

Considerately, he answered it so that the person then on duty would not have to interrupt activity in a nearby room.

Unfortunately, however, the one on duty imputed a wrong motive instead of thanking the thoughtful individual for his loving assistance. A minor matter?

Yes, but it illustrates the need to guard against misconceptions in assessing the attitudes and motives of others.

Giving other the benefit of doubt


Seeing the sad consequences of imputing wrong motives to others, we certainly want to refrain from doing this. It is wise to give others the benefit of the doubt.

Adherence to this principle certainly means trusting others in cases of doubt, instead of being unduly suspicious of them.

Getting better acquainted with others may help us to avoid imputing wrong motives to them.

Sometimes this takes months, or even years. But in many cases, the more information we have, the less we are in danger of imputing wrong motives to others.


When our motive are questioned


But what if we are the ones to whom wrong motives are being imputed? How should we react?

In the course of time, the other person may get to know you better and may correct his view. Upon appreciating that he was mistaken, he will love you all the more, especially if you did not react in anger.

An especially difficult situation exists when a person gets counsel from someone who misjudges his motives. Whatever might be said in defense may be viewed as self-justification.

In reality, however, the counsel may not apply because not all factors have been taken into consideration.

Still, some well-meaning counselors may tend to question your motives if you try to point out the real situation.

Hence, if the point in question is of little importance, you may choose not to say anything further to correct the counselor’s view, provided that no harmful results are to be expected from remaining silent.

But it is not always required that you simply say nothing if your position or motives have been misunderstood. Obviously, it would be morally wrong to allow a lie to stand unchallenged.

There are instances when it is appropriate to explain your position or attitude calmly, so that your conscience is at ease because you know that at least you made an effort to clarify matters instead of being guilty of weakly admitting to a false charge.

Thereby the counselor may benefit, too, especially as regards developing balance in the giving of counsel.

Do you recall the case mentioned at the outset? One individual had imputed wrong motives to another who had failed to greet her.

Well, in later conversation it was found that the man had just been lost in thought and had not recognized the woman.

That was the only reason that he had not said hello. It was good that this woman spoke with the man about her impression and did not hold a grudge against him while at the same time not disclosing her thoughts.

But an even better solution to this problem would have been to assume from the very beginning that the other person had merely overlooked her.

There is, indeed, a need for balance in evaluating the motives of others. Therefore, you should beware of unjustly imputing wrong motives to others.

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